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Pakistani PM Offers Concessions Ahead of Opposition Protests

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani offered some concessions to supporters of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif on the eve of a protest march from Lahore to the capital, Islamabad.

During a televised address to newly elected and outgoing senators, Wednesday, Mr. Gilani said the government has faced "severe criticism" over its response to a Supreme Court ruling that banned Mr. Sharif from elected office and removed his brother as chief minister of Punjab province.

The prime minister said he will advise President Ali Asif Zardari to reconsider his imposition of governor's rule in Punjab, Sharif's stronghold, and allow the majority party to establish its own government.

Immediately after the court decision, the president installed a member of his own party in the post once held by Shahbaz Sharif. The move prompted the Sharifs to call for anti-government protests and sparked criticism that President Zardari was interfering in the country's judicial affairs.

At the heart of the dispute is the president's refusal to reinstate the former chief justice of the Supreme Court fired by former President Pervez Musharraf. That refusal led Nawaz Sharif to leave Pakistan's coalition government.

Earlier Wednesday, the Pakistani government tried to clamp down on the planned demonstrations, detaining hundreds of activists and banning protests in Punjab and Sindh.

The government had also warned Sharif against committing treason and said he could be arrested if the rallies turn violent.

The opposition's so-called "long march" is scheduled to leave Lahore on Thursday and arrive in the Pakistani capital on March 16.

Two years ago this week, Pakistan's then-President Pervez Musharraf removed Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as chief justice of the Supreme Court, triggering a wave of criticism and protests.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.